So often when I’m talking about This with her I want to tack on “but he was terrible and I was suffocating and literally afraid for my life at times”. I want to defend leaving him, let him shoulder some of the blame. Because I know that outwardly it looks like I left a great man for a woman and I’m the terrible one. It’s been a rough year coming to grips with the fact that that’s what most people think.
I can’t change any of that now, but I do think it’s important to talk more about why women stay, and leave. I don’t have it all worked out yet but gosh it was brutal trying so hard and feeling like a failure. Trying to be a progressive, empowered woman and feeling like I had to cover him all the time while he railed against me and my kids. It was a mess mostly, that’s why I wanted to celebrate and talk about all the good times so publicly- I hoped they would last or be enough to hold us together… but they didn’t and he got worse and it got scarier and then I felt less safe to talk about it because I think, well, some people got tired of hearing about how scary he was and seeing me not do enough to protect myself or my kids, not leaving before I did.
(And yes I know plenty of people are mad about the how of my leaving. But God have you seen all the healing? I wouldn’t change a thing about it now.)
It’s been about a year since I left him. A year or so of coming out of what I originally thought was a hard and sort of mutually failing marriage, trying to keep it all kosher for the kids and the friends and losing more than half of them anyway. A year of realizing there was maybe more manipulation or abuse or, god forbid we use the actual word “fault”, on his part than I wanted to admit. A year of working out that whole damn thing where you have for so many reasons tried to paint him as a really nice guy hoping you could keep some friends around or you wouldn’t look like an idiot for marrying him, but the truth is he was mean and scary and hurtful and unwilling to change, and that’s kind of a lot to admit to yourself much less the whole world.
It is for sure excruciating for someone like me who sort of finds her identity in being open and smart and protective, super pro-women and forward thinking- to realize I’ve been making my husband look like a hero forever and now everyone thinks I’m the worst for divorcing him. I don’t know what all I’d change about that, a lot I suppose, the way I projected him and us on social media for starters, but damn I was really happy in those moments and hoping against hope that would be enough.
I just… I know plenty of other women who’ve been through or are going through this. So I guess I want to say I see you and I get it. A lot of people won’t, and that can be just as heartbreaking as the marriage falling apart. There is so much grieving to do in all of this and none of it is easy. And my god it’s hard not to be ashamed that you weren’t smarter or stronger or more independent, or more vulnerable and honest with yourself and the world. And now it seems like you’ve dug yourself a hole and if you start walking the truth, at least externally, it looks like either you were lying then or you’re lying now and either way you’re selfish as hell. But babe, you were doing your best to keep your family afloat. To keep your marriage. You hoped against hope for a long time I know. And it’s just not fucking fair.
It’s a sad song but I think maybe some women need to hear it- to know they’re not the villain or failures, to hear me too in all kinds of ways, to see a few more hands reaching out, if only via the internet. Because divorce is lonely no matter what but when your friends start bailing out of confusion or disapproval it’s damn near impossible to stay afloat much less gather the strength you need to start over.
Listen, everyone out there who’s coming out of the fog of a terrible relationship- You’re amazing for surviving even when it wasn’t abusive it was just fucking neglectful and exhausting. You’re amazing for holding it all together. You’re amazing for falling apart now when you can and navigating self care and helping your kids through. And soon maybe you’ll help other women who are just now realizing what they’ve been through. Who were maybe fed a steady diet of a different kind of patriarchy from churches who said we had to protect and cover our husbands and lay down our sense of self in all kinds of passive aggressive ways. It’s not sacrificial love, what they’re selling or saying we have to give, it’s just mislabeled patriarchy and authoritarianism. You’ve gotta fit in their boxes or get out and that’s not unconditional love, it’s not the way of Jesus.
I don’t know what the conclusion is here or that there is one yet… just that I want us to start talking more about what it’s like to leave when you’ve tried so hard and everyone including you wanted it to work and there was love and it just seems like none of it was enough… I know that churches have got to stop victim blaming and start listening to women, offer as much grace to the women who leave as they do to the husbands who hurt them. And I know that unconditional acceptance and love should be the foundation of the church and they’re not in so many cases. I know that we can all do better, be more honest and vulnerable, willing to share and less judgmental and scared of change.
I know I’m hearing way too many stories of women scared to speak up just out of fear of what their friends or community or church will say. I know that divorce is hard but it’s nowhere near as hard as a home full of neglect, silence, fury and abuse.
And I know that there is Love out there for you, as free as the sea, safer and wilder and more full of beauty and wonder than you can imagine, I promise. And it is so worth it to let yourself find it. Speak up when you can, get out if you need to. Take care of you and yours. Let yourself grieve, heal and soak up all the joy you can wherever you can find it. Reach out and keep reaching out, let go of who you need to let go of. You deserve all the good things you know deep down you deserve. Ok? Ok.
Solidarity and love and love and love.